Paul Simon began writing music at age 12. He and his longtime musical counterpart, Art Garfunkel, would perform together at elementary school dances in Queens. Now, at age 76, Simon is crooning his last few songs on his Homeward Bound Farewell Tour, which stopped at Smoothie King Center on Wednesday night (Sept. 5).
During a three-hour-plus performance, Simon brought the audience on a reflective journey through time and space via anecdotes and melodies created during a career of worldwide fame.
After bringing the audience to their feet with the wisecracking “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Simon transitioned into a monologue about his farewell tour.
“It’s a cliche, but it’s true. It is gone in a snap,” said Simon with the accompanying hand motion. “I’ve been doing some of these songs like it’s just a show, but every now and then I sink into the music and realize it is the final iteration of these songs.”
Cue “The Boy in the Bubble,” a jaunty 1986 tune that lifted up every audience member and relied on all 12 member band ensemble. Simon then transported the audience to Lafayette by singling out the legendary Cajun saxophonist Dickie Landry in the crowd and jumping into a song in his honor. While the horn section took center stage, Simon danced about, his white shoes fluttering, his hands pantomiming an air guitar and his silver sportcoat shimmering.
Simon then took the crowd to London, the city that played a crucial role in his early growth as a songwriter and inspired his transition from electric to acoustic guitar. To convey the musical and geographical transition, he played a sampling of guitar riffs, teasing the crowd with the introduction to “Sound of Silence.”
“You get the picture. I’ve been writing songs a long time,” he summarized with a smile and the shake of his head.
Next stop was Kingston, Jamaica via a rendition of a “Mother and Child Reunion,” a 1972 single that was at the time one of the few songs by a non-Jamaican musician to use prominent elements of reggae.
Then to Joan Baez’s home in northern California, where Simon stumbled upon a potential song title while flipping through the pages of work by Rene Magritte, a 20th century Belgian surrealist. Back in New Orleans, Simon brought the story full circle by playing the haunting and dreamlike “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War.”
And finally to west Africa, where Simon’s beloved guitarist Vincent Nguini grew up in Cameroon. When Nguini died in 2017, Simon eventually replaced him with Biodun Kuti of Nigeria. Kuti proved his caliber with vocals and instrumentals for the trancelike “Spirit Voices” about an ayahuasca experience.
Simon briefly zoomed out to a worldview with the lightly political “Questions to the Angels,” which asks, “If every human on the planet and all the buildings on it should disappear, would a zebra grazing in the African Savannah care enough to share one zebra tear?”
The second half of the show featured an exhaustive trip through top hits from his career as a single artist and time with Garfunkel. Before breaking into “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” Simon paid tribute to New Orleans legend Ellis Marsalis, who was also in attendance. The crowd swayed and danced during “Kodachrome,” sat and cried to “Bridge Under Troubled Water” and crooned in chorus to “You Can Call Me Al,” which was released 32 years ago to date.
The already wistful lyrics of Simon’s ballads and pop jams seemed to take on even more gravity with the iconic singer-songwriter’s impending exit from touring. The tour’s titular tune, “Homeward Bound,” recounts a weary musician longing to head home and played in front of a montage of old photos from Simon’s sprawling, six-decade career.
After two encores, the crowd could hardly ask for a greater journey across the globe and late 20th century. But after the final chord, no one, including Simon, seemed to want to leave their posts within the arena. After a solo performance of “Sound of Silence,” the 76-year-old rock legend walked slowly from one side of the stage to the other, before setting down his guitar and heading off stage for good.
Simon is set to release his 14th solo album “Into the Blue Light,” which puts a spin on 10 old songs, on Friday (Sept. 7). But he has just 10 more shows on his Homeward Bound farewell trek. He will complete the tour on Sept. 22 in Queens, where it all began so many years ago.